Arawakan Language


Background:
The Arawak Indians of the Caribbean spoke Arawark, also known as “Lokono; Arawák; Aruak; Arowak; Locono; Arwuak.” (source) This is one of the many Arawakan languages and was once spoken in the Caribbean. Since the majority of the Caribbean Arawaks died as a result of the Spanish colonizing the area, Arawak is spoken manly in South America today where “about 2500 people in Suriname, Guyana, French Guianna, and Venezuela” speak it. (source) Currently, mostly adults are speaking Arawak and children are not. This could possibly cause the language to stop being used. (source)

While the Taino Indians are considered to be a larger group of people that the Arawaks were a part of, they did not speak the same language. The Lokono Arawak spoken by the Arawak people is referred to as “True Arawak” in order to distinguish it among the other Arawakan languages. (source)

The Language:
Arawak is a language that has a subject verb object word order, like English. In contrasts to English, all nouns are singular and all verbs are third person singular. This means that that, for example, to say someone runs, it would always be “he or she runs.” Arawak, like other Native American languages and unlike English, does not have a separate infinitive for the verb—“to run.” (source)

The current version of the Arawak language has two separate dialects, called Eastern Arawak and Western Arawak. Differences in the two can be demonstrated through word examples:
English
Eastern Arawak
Western Arawak
One
Ábą
Aba
Two
Bian
Biama
Three
Kabun
Kabyn
Four
Biti
Bithi
Man
Wadili
Wadili
Woman
Hiaro
Hiaro
Dog
Péero (from Spanish)
Péero (from Spanish)
Sun
Hadali
Hadali
Moon
Kati
Kathi
Water
Uini
Vuniabu
(source)

As evident from these specific words, the Arawak language has evolved over time. As it moved with the people into South America, it developed slight variations in the words. For example, must of the words has some spelling changes, such as "bian" and "biama" with the must drastic being "uini" and "vuniabu." In addition, the influence of the Spanish is also evident through their word for "dog."

Numbers:
The Arawak number system is based on the number four. Numbers higher than four are created by combining the number for one, “aba;” two, “bian;” three “kabun;” and four, “biti.” In addition, the numbers five (“abadakbo”) and ten (“bianidakabo”) each have the word “dakabo” as part of the word for the number. “Dakabo” comes from the Arawak word for “hand,” illustrating a connection between the number of fingers on a hand to the number itself. (source)

Pronunciation:
The pronunciation and spelling of the Arawak language can be illustrated through a chart of its vowels

Characters we use:
Sometimes Also Used:
How to Pronounce it:
a

Like the a in father
aa

Like the a only held longer
e

Like the e sound in Spanish, similar to the a in gate
ee
e·, e:
Like the e only held longer
i

Like the i in police
ii
i·, i:
Like the i only held longer
o

Like o in note or u in flute
oo
o·, o:
Like o only held longer
y
u, i
Like the u in upon, only pronounced higher in the mouth
yy
y:, uu, ii
like y only held longer
(source)

This video is of a discussion of Arawak. It describes the language and culture of the people while also giving examples of the language to demonstrate the pronunciation. The main focus of this video is a man who is one of the only speakers of Lokono in Guyana, despite the large amount of Arawak people in the region.




Future of the Language:
As this video describes, the Arawak language is not used by all ethnically Arawakan people. In fact, it is beginning to be used less, as demonstrated earlier in the fact that children are not speaking it. While the language has sustained through the turmoil of the Spanish invasion and the migration to South America, it is not at risk of dying out from lack of use.